NEW YORK — Norman Jewison, the acclaimed and versatile Canadian-born director who made Hollywood films ranging from Doris Day comedies and “Moonstruck” to social dramas like the Oscar-winning “In the Heat of the Night,” has died at the age of 97.
Jewison, a three-time Oscar nominee and recipient of an Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1999, died “peacefully” on Saturday, according to publicist Jeff Sanderson. Additional details were not immediately available.
Throughout his long career, Jewison combined light entertainment with topical films that spoke to him on a deeply personal level. While finishing his military service in the Canadian navy during World War II, Jewison saw Jim Crow segregation up close by hitchhiking in the American South. He noted that racism and injustice became his most common themes in his autobiography, “This Terrible Job Has Been Good to Me.”
“Whenever a movie deals with racism, many Americans are disturbed,” he wrote. “Yet we have to face it. We have to deal with prejudice and injustice, otherwise we will never understand what is good and bad, what is right and what is wrong; we need to feel how the ‘other’ feels.”
He drew on his experiences in 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night,” which starred Rod Steiger as a white supremacist small-town sheriff and Sidney Poitier as a black Philadelphia detective trying to help solve a murder and eventually forming a working relationship. with the hostile local lawman.
James Baldwin decried the film’s “appalling distance from reality” and thought that the director was trapped in a fantasy of racial harmony that would only increase “Black anger and despair.” But Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was among the critics who found the film powerful and inspiring, and in a year that included such iconic works as “The Graduate” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” Jewison’s production won the Academy Award for best picture. Steiger also won the film. home Oscar for best actor. (Jewison lost the best director award to Mike Nichols for “The Graduate”).
Among those who encouraged Jewison while making “In the Heat of the Night” was Robert F. Kennedy, whom the director met during a ski trip in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I told him I made movies, and he asked what kind of movies I made,” he recalled in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “So I told him I was working on ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and that it was about two cops: one a white sheriff from Mississippi, the other a black detective from Philadelphia. I told him it was a movie about tolerance. And he listened, nodded and said: ‘You know, Norman, timing is everything. In politics, in art, in life itself.’ “I never forgot that.”
She received two more Oscar nominations for the hit romantic comedy “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Moonstruck,” for which Cher won an Academy Award for best actress. He also worked on such notable films as the Cold War spoof “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” the Steve McQueen thriller “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and the racial drama “A Soldier’s Tale,” a pair of films featuring Denzel Washington. and “The Hurricane,” in which Washington plays wrongfully imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
A third project with Washington never made it into production. In the early 1990s, Jewison decided to direct a biopic of Malcolm X, but backed out after protests from Spike Lee and others that a white director not make the film. Lee ended directing.
Five Jewison films received best Oscar nominations: “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Moonstruck” and “A Soldier’s Tale.”
Jewison and his wife, Margaret Ann Dixon (alias Dixie), had three children; sons Kevin and Michael and daughter Jennifer Ann, who is an actress and appeared in Jewison’s films “Agnes of God” and “Best Friends.” The Jews were married for 51 years until his death in 2004. Lynne St. She married David in 2010.
Jewison, who was honored by Canada with the Governor General’s Award for the Performing Arts in 2003, has remained close to his home country. When not working, he lived on a 200-acre farm near Toronto; Here he raised horses and cattle and produced maple syrup. He founded the Canadian Film Center in 1988 and hosted barbecues at the Toronto Film Festival for years.
The Toronto-born Jew began acting at the age of 6, appearing in front of Masonic lodge meetings. After graduating from Victoria College, he went to work for the BBC in London, then returned to Canada and directed programs for the CBC. His work there brought him offers from Hollywood, and he quickly gained fame as the director of TV musicals featuring stars such as Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. Jewison moved into feature films in 1963 with the comedy “40 Pounds of Trouble,” starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette.
The director’s light touch prompted Universal to cast him in a series of comedies; these include “The Thrill of It All,” which pairs Day with James Garner, and “Send Me No Flowers,” starring Day and Rock Hudson. Tired of such scenarios, Jewison took advantage of a loophole in his contract to move to MGM for 1965’s “The Cincinnati Kid,” a gambling drama starring McQueen and Edward G. Robinson. This was followed by Alan Arkin’s breakthrough film, “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” starring Carl Reiner and Eva Marie Saint.
His other films include “FIST,” a flop starring Sylvester Stallone as a Jimmy Hoffa-style labor leader; “…And Justice for All” (1979), in which Al Pacino struggles with a crooked judicial system; and “In Country,” starring Bruce Willis as a Vietnam War veteran. His most recent film, the 2003 thriller “The Statement,” starring Michael Caine and Tilda Swinton, failed at the box office.
“I was never as much a part of the establishment as I wanted to be,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011. “I wanted to be accepted. I wanted people to say ‘that was a great picture’. I mean, I have a big ego like everyone else. I’m not a shrinking violet. But I’ve never felt completely accepted, but maybe that’s good.”
The late AP Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.